Forest or Tree?

Rabbit - lookAre you a big picture person or a details person?  A forest or a tree?  To be a good writer you need to be both, but like with most things, we all have natural preferences.  Things that are more appealing to us, and that we naturally navigate towards.  Of course there is always overlap, but for the sake of this post I’m ignoring grey and presenting only black and white.  So, here’s how I’m defining them:

Ideas:

A Forest loves to daydream, brainstorm and mind-map.  They let their ideas roam free.  And they will not be limited to just the story in front of them – oh no – multi-book series unroll before their eyes.

A Tree gets excited by each individual idea.  They’ll fastidiously unfold each one like an easter egg, careful not to break the foil.  One book at a time, thank-you, and let them plan out the beginning before they even think about the middle or the end.

Characterisation:

A Forest lets their characters appear as they write.  They discover their past, present and future as the story unfolds, and learn about each character based on their actions and choices.  A Forest will say they don’t write their characters – they just run around after them, writing down what they do.

A Tree needs to know everything about their characters before they start writing.  What are their hopes, dreams, ambitions?  They’ll interview them, find images of them in magazines, get to know every intimate detail of their life, including their flossing habits.

Plotting:

A Forest will let the plot unfold.  They will not be limited by detailed plans – no! – they will let the pure ideas pour onto the page as they write.  They trust in the story to write itself.  Plot-holes – bah! – their subconscious will fix such things.

A Tree will have scrapbooks filled with notes on plots and sub-plots and sub-sub-plots.  Detailed story arcs, chapter plans and action graphs are an absolute necessity before even considering starting to write.

Research:

A Forest will scoff – who needs it?  All they need to know is enough to start writing.  Incidental research can be done along the way, and any holes can be filled in later.

A Tree could write essays on the background research they’ve done, fill encyclopaedias with the knowledge they’ve accrued – all before they’ve even written a word.  In fact, many a Tree has become so caught up in their pursuit of knowledge that years can pass before they remember there was a story to be written.

I feel like I’ve just written a set of star signs (Forests are also givers not takers, and Trees’ lucky numbers are 2, 5 and 8).  I think we all naturally tend towards one more than the other.  I am more of a Forest myself.  For some reason the more detailed planning and researching and editing side of writing never appeals to me quite as much, even though I do quite enjoy it when I make myself do it.  The Forest side of me loves daydreaming about new ideas and plunging into first drafts with the thrill of the chase, discovering characters as I go and the surprise of unexpected twists and turns.  However I am able to be a Tree when I need to be, and to write well I need to channel Tree qualities often.  In second drafts I become very organised, with chapter plans and character profiles, and do much more research at this point.  It’s just that I don’t enjoy being a Tree quite as much.  I’m a much more natural Forest.

How about you – are you more comfortably one or the other?  How have you learnt to integrate the other side into your writing habits?

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10 Responses to “Forest or Tree?”


  1. 1 chrisbongers March 6, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    An interesting analogy, Katherine. My natural inclination lies in exploring the forest. I am a haphazard researcher and notetaker, and while I tend to know where I’m headed, I fall into a lot of holes and only deign to pull out a map if hopelessly lost. I discover new places to take my writing by accident, rather than design, and have learned to trust my internal compass. When that fails, I pull out my scene map and sketch a few scenes in advance to get me back on the right track. Thanks for the post. :)

  2. 2 dlanod March 6, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    So… what’s a firewood person?

  3. 3 Sheryl Gwyther March 6, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    I can definitely see you in those forests, Kath.
    I find myself flicking back and forward between the two – but the forest bit tends to happen in my head and imagination rather than on paper. Could be likened to the ‘big picture’ aspect as well.

  4. 4 janebretl March 7, 2009 at 11:44 am

    Katherine,
    I like the forest/tree dichotomy — thought provoking on several levels.
    I am a forest, and have to muster up lots of self-discipline to find my tree-ness.
    If I didn’t find your writing so inspiring, I would still continue coming back to the site just to see your illustrations. I love the latest one with the bunny slippers.

  5. 5 Lynn Priestley March 7, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Guilty as charged: I, Lynn Priestley, stand accused, in past drafts, of being a Tree. I am, however, happy to announce that I am slowly growing into a Forest and can solemnly say that the air is clearer, and the view is better and that I am eternally grateful for every tree that lies within this forest that is me. (Was that the sound of one hand clapping? Or a tree falling in the wood with nobody around to….never mind.)

  6. 6 fabio, the most beatiful man in the cosmnos (including the black holes) March 7, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    well. fabio is intrigued. fabio wonders whether if he stands in the forest and is beautiful but no one is there to see, is fabio really beautiful at all. maybe trees think fabio is beautiful.

  7. 7 Katherine Battersby March 8, 2009 at 9:21 am

    I love the way each person has extended on the analogy in their own way. Thanks guys! dlanod – I’m a little concerned by a writer who feels like firewood … possibly one too many rejections! Jane, thanks for your lovely words. Fabio – your insights are ever … ah … enlightening.

  8. 8 Chris March 11, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    When I first looked at this I thought, well I’ve got to be both. Then after reading through it, it was all about the forest. Every single thing about the Forest-seers described me. Self-discovery is great.

  9. 9 Katherine Battersby March 11, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    That’s interesting Chris. Funny how we often think we know ourselves, until we’re forced to look at our reflections in a new way!

  10. 10 Madeline Stephenson March 25, 2009 at 6:45 am

    I think I am a Forest, but I need to be more Tree-like.


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About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

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